PITTSFORD, N.Y. – Brooks Koepka had a 4-under 66 – the low round at Oak Hill for the second straight day – and leads the 2023 PGA Championship by one shot over Viktor Hovland and Canada’s Corey Conners heading into the final round.
But Koepka won’t have it easy.
Conners played Oak Hill like a U.S. Open – that’s what this PGA Championship feels like – by opening with two birdies and 13 pars that kept him in front for so much of the wet, gruelling day. And then one swing changed everything.
He was in a bunker right of the 16th fairway when he hit the ball so thin that it disappeared into the lip of the soggy turf. It was plugged deep in the sod, and Conners had to drop it in gnarly rough on top of a mound framing the bunker. He did well to advance that toward the green into more thick grass and took double bogey.
Conners, in control for so long, had to settle for a 70.
Hovland overcame mistakes early with three birdies in a five-hole stretch around the turn. But then the Norwegian failed to take advantage of the scoring stretch – Nos. 13, 14 and 15 – and took bogey from the bunker on the 18th hole for a 70.
He will be in the final group of a major for the second time. Hovland was tied with Rory McIlroy at St. Andrews last summer and closed with a 74.
Missing from all this activity was Scottie Scheffler, the No. 2 player in the world, who started with two straight bogeys and didn’t make a birdie _ his only one of the round – until the 14th hole. He shot a 73, but is still very much in the mix.
So is Bryson DeChambeau, who played with Koepka and took double bogey on the sixth hole for the second straight day. He ground out a 70 and was three shots behind.
McIlroy was about like the weather – promising and then bleak – during a wild round that ended with a par save for a 69. He was among only seven players under still under par, but still five shots behind the four-time major champion Koepka.
Oak Hill in pleasant weather has been a brute. Rain came down at the start of play and never really let up except for a brief burst of sunshine and shadows, and then the showers returned. Fairways were framed by umbrellas. The rough was thick and wet. McIlroy was among players who wore their caps backward to keep rain from dripping off the bill.
Fellow Canadians Adam Svensson and Taylor Pendrith are sitting tied for 20th at +3, 9-shots back of leader Koepka.
Conners following his round
COREY CONNERS: Yeah, it was a really solid day. I managed my game well in the difficult conditions, and yeah, happy with the round. It was a fun battle out there and very difficult.
Q. On 16, it went from a flawless round to a bizarre situation. Did you know right away the ball was buried, or did you think it maybe skipped off, or what do you think in the moment?
COREY CONNERS: Yeah, I didn’t make great contact there. I saw everybody looking up in the air. I did that as well. I thought it maybe skipped up. But you know, didn’t see anything land and was pretty certain it was embedded there. The ball was below my feet and didn’t quite adjust for that. Wish I could have that one back.
Q. Was there anything you did or talked over with Danny afterwards to try to clear your head going to the next hole?
COREY CONNERS: We had a laugh about it, really. It was an unfortunate situation and a poor shot. Didn’t really affect the last few holes. Just tried to give myself a couple looks on 17 and 18.
Q. Are you happier with your score or maybe how you mentally handled everything today, including the weather?
COREY CONNERS: Yeah, equally both, I would say. I managed my calmness and freedom out there pretty well despite the challenges through the weather. I’m happy with how I handled myself, and also pretty happy with the score.
Q. You’re only one shot back heading into the last round of a major championship. Just in terms of your approach to tomorrow, how are you feeling going into the final round?
COREY CONNERS: Yeah, I played solid the last few days, so just trying to do more of the same and have some fun out there and play with freedom.
Q. Looking back on it, what happened at 16, do you find that as a pretty significant break that it actually did embed, versus what could have happened?
COREY CONNERS: Yeah, if it wasn’t embedded, it was a pretty steep bank. I don’t think it would have stayed on there, but yeah, was able to get a free drop, and yeah, maybe got a break.
Q. Were you comfortable with how it worked out, where you would have to drop, so forth and so on?
COREY CONNERS: Yeah, if I could have dropped it on the side closest to the fairway, I might have had a better stance there, but it was pretty clear once we took a look that it was going to be closer to the hole and had to drop no closer to the hole. I put myself in a difficult spot there, but you know, just got to follow the rules.
Q. What was your approach to the 6th hole, and how do you think you did on the front nine? Did you do as well as you hoped to do?
COREY CONNERS: Yeah, I got off to a great start. Was really steady on the front nine. The sixth hole had a 5-iron and was basically trying to mid the middle of the green. Just pulled it a little bit but got it on the green which is a big plus.
Q. If someone had said to you at the start of this week, you are one shot back going into the final round of a major, what would your response have been?
COREY CONNERS: Yeah, sounds pretty sweet to me.
Q. What would winning a major mean to you and Canadian sport?
COREY CONNERS: Yeah, watching Mike Weir win the Masters in 2003 was huge, and it would mean a lot to me and I’m sure a lot to people across Canada. I will be playing hard tomorrow, but I’m trying to have some fun out there.
Q. How much has he inspired your career?
COREY CONNERS: Incredibly. He was 11 years old when he won the Masters, just getting into competitive golf. I think he really definitely inspired me to want to make it as a pro.